The Magazine


Jun 8, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 38 • By DAVID FRUM
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But I am asking you to imagine the unimaginable. The mind cannot encompass it. The scandal that would have been uncorked by such revelations about the Reagan administration, like Godzilla, would have been too colossal to fit onto even the largest screen. And for good reason. Since the first days of the Republic, Americans have looked upon the threat of foreign bribery with horror. This menace preoccupied the authors of the Federalist Papers, who returned to it again and again. "[C]abal, intrigue and corruption [are the] most deadly adversaries of republican government," they wrote. These evils "might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils." It was a whiff of this sort of corruption that energized Lawrence Walsh's inquiry into Iran-contra. He found no evidence of this type of wrongdoing, and in his strange and bitter final report could muster only sly insinuations against the targets of his investigation.

The threat of foreign corruption was an illusion in 1986. Is it real in 1998? It is imperative that we learn the truth. In the end, the security of the American people is safeguarded by the judgment and integrity of the man they choose as president. To quote the Federalist Papers again: "[A] man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of but a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote, when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest. . . . An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of treachery to his constituents."

Nobody doubts that Bill Clinton is an ambitious man. The deeply, deeply disquieting question raised by his latest scandal is: exactly how ambitious? What price has he paid? And at what cost to the American people?

David Frum is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.